By The Rev. Sherry Deets
9 Pentecost, Proper 14 – August 10, 2014
Matthew 14:22-33 and Genesis 37:1-4,12-28
My friend Karoline took a trip to the Holy Land and she stayed at a kibbutz on the east side of the Sea of Galilee. They could see Tiberius from the shore. From that location she traveled to various places where Jesus “could have” fed the 5,000, the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes; where Jesus “possibly” preached the Sermon on the Mount, the Mount of Beatitudes; where Jesus “could have” hosted breakfast for his disciples, the Church of the Primacy of Peter. These sites were certainly significant. But, she says, the moment during that leg of the trip where a biblical story literally came to life was our last day at the kibbutz. In the morning, the winds started up; trees bending from the force, lawn chairs scattered on the shore, and whitecaps on the sea. Suddenly, there I was, in the boat with the disciples. So this is what it would have been like? Our guide, Johnny, said wind storms like this were sudden and frequent, a characteristic feature of the weather pattern for that region.
In reading today’s gospel story, I realized that the disciples don’t seem to be too afraid of the storm, and if Johnny is right, and I am sure he was, these fishermen should be used to these kinds of storms. I also noticed that Jesus doesn’t actually rebuke the winds in this passage. He just shows up.
Sudden and frequent storms – never quite knowing for sure when the storm may appear. Even with today’s technology, storms are not always predictable. When they arrive unexpectedly, they can wreak havoc in our lives. And yet, the greatest storms in life have nothing to do with low pressure systems or cold fronts. The greatest storms come through the sudden twists and turns of our own lives. One day you go to the doctor’s office for a routine exam and the next day your life is turned upside down by the results. Or your marriage is humming along just smoothly until one day your spouse tells you he wants a divorce. Or you struggle to keep your head just above water financially, and then the boss announces her downsizing plan. Or a child gets sick, or a parent dies, or there is a fire, or there is a family fight. Suddenly, a storm hits you with a vengeance, and your life takes a dramatic and serious turn. The one common thread in each of these circumstances is that you didn’t see the storm coming
And it’s not a question of “if the storms come” but rather “when they come.” None of us is immune from suffering, or tragedy, or heartache. Rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. Bad things do happen to good people. So the question is, what do you do when storms come upon your life? I want you to think about it for a moment; what do you do when unexpected storms come upon your life. (SILENCE). What have you done when the storms have happened to you? (SILENCE).
It was late in the day, and Jesus has just performed the miracle of feeding more than 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and two fish, and now it was time to leave. Jesus sends his disciples out into the boat and tells them he will catch up with them later, and he goes up into the hills to pray. Meanwhile, the disciples are trying to row the boat, but the waves were battering their tiny craft, and the wind was against them. I love that phrase, “the wind was against them.” I think that describes the reality of some peoples’ lives; they feel like the wind is always against them. It’s not that you’re not trying. You’re not lazy, or uncommitted, or whiney, or incompetent; it’s just that the wind is against you no matter which direction you row. Life is sometimes difficult.
So that’s how it felt that night on the Sea of Galilee; the disciples were going nowhere fast, and the wind was against them. They had been rowing most of the night; it was now the fourth watch, which meant that it was between 3 and 6 AM, and they found themselves caught in a storm. And in their particular circumstance, they think they see a ghost! That’s another thing about the storms of our lives; we often imagine the worst when the storms come. We often see barriers and hurdles and problems that aren’t really there, but our view of life is clouded, it appears darker than it actually is. The disciples think they see a ghost and they are terrified; “It’s a ghost!” they cry out. But then Jesus calls back to them “Take heart, it is I; don’t be afraid.”
That the same Jesus who drew near to the disciples in that tiny fishing boat also draws near to us when the storms come. Author Robert Capon says that most of us would like to think of Jesus coming to the rescue in some heavenly tow truck, offering us hot chicken soup as he tows us to safety. In reality, Capon writes, Jesus does come to us in the storm, and he sits and suffers with us until the storm has passed. Jesus draws near to those who are hurting; that’s the first thing.
The second thing is that Jesus calls out to each of us to step out in faith. Even when faith seems unreasonable, and even when we can’t see any possible solution on the horizon, he invites us to not be afraid to trust in him. Peter may have been an impulsive character, but his faith was bold whenever Jesus called to him to follow.
The third thing is this; sooner or later, every storm ends. You may be going through a difficult chapter in your life right now. The wind is against you, and it’s been that way for a while, and you are weary, or discouraged, or lonely, or afraid. The storm will not last forever. It will pass, and the sun will shine again, so don’t give up.
St. Augustine wrote these words:
Let us sing alleluia here on earth, while we still live in anxiety, so that we may sing it one day in heaven in full security. . . We shall have no enemies in heaven, we shall never lose a friend. God’s praises are sung both there and here, but here they are sung in anxiety, there is security; here they are sung by those destined to die, there, by those destined to live forever; here they are sung in hope, there in hope’s fulfillment; here, they are sung by wayfarers, there, by those living in their own country. So then . . . let us sing now, not in order to enjoy a life of leisure, but in order to lighten our labors. You should sing as wayfarers do—sing, but continue your journey. . . sing then, but keep going.
May all who struggle and all who hurt this day take heart and not be afraid; Jesus has come to share the storms with us. But the Lord who walks on top of the sea in this story not only directs wind and wave but also death and life. This Jesus wants more than to command our attention; he wants to save our lives. And he has promised to do just that. Amen.
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